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A mining engineer uses his or her expert knowledge of mechanical engineering principles to design new mining systems and equipment. Engineers investigate existing mining technology and come up with ways in which systems can be made safer, cleaner, and more efficient. Some professionals work in research and development firms to design new equipment, while others actively participate in specific mining endeavors, from identifying natural deposits to implementing the construction of mine shafts.
Mining has historically been a dangerous, labor-intensive, and expensive process. The goal of a mining engineer is to create new equipment and methods for extracting minerals that will ensure the protection of workers and the environment. Engineers keep costs low by developing more efficient and effective mining techniques. A mining engineer might specialize with a certain type of mineral, such as copper, coal, or potash, or a particular mining technique, such as surface or underground mining.
Engineers who work for equipment manufacturers or research and development firms carefully analyze the flaws in current systems, such as drilling devices or ventilation systems. They often work in teams to design new equipment and machinery by sketching blueprints and creating computer simulations. When a team believes they have concocted a good plan, they supervise the construction of a prototype and test it in real-world conditions. A successful design is presented to the team's supervisor or company owner, who can authorize the production and distribution of the new machine.
A mining engineer may also work on-site with projects managers and labor crews, helping them to discover mineral deposits and begin the digging process. The engineer consults workers on how or where to drill, dig, or plant explosives. He or she oversees the construction of shafts and inspects the ground to ensure safety and stability. Many engineers work full time at established mines to ensure progress and help solve any problems that may arise with equipment or processes.
A bachelor's degree in mechanical or civil engineering is sufficient to become a mining engineer in most settings. Some students pursue master's or doctoral degrees specifically in mining engineering to improve their credentials and better understand the details of the profession. A new engineer is often required to gain several years of supervised experience and pass a licensing exam before working independently. Licensing tests are administered by governing boards in the state or country in which an engineer wants to work. In time, an experienced mining engineer who excels at his or her job may be granted the opportunity to become a lead supervisor, project manager, or top executive within a company.